Iowa City will resume standard utility billing for the first time since March 2020, assistance plans being implemented

As Iowa City renews its standard utility billing, officials discuss various assistance plans for citizens impacted by the resumption.


Matt Sindt

Photo illustration.

Virginia Russell, News Reporter

The City of Iowa City is resuming utility bill collection for residents after pausing it for two years in March 2020. 

Iowa City’s utility billing practices were modified to alleviate financial pressure for citizens during COVID-19. The city will start shutoffs on Sept. 20 if a bill still wasn’t paid or a payment plan with the city is not in place, the city announced in a Aug. 24 release. 

Geoff Fruin, Iowa City city manager, said the decision was made due to loss of revenue from the unpaid bills during the pause. Additionally, some active accounts were closed. The revenue loss accumulated to around $675,000.

Iowa City also discarded its $45 carding fee, which was previously a part of the collections bill. This fee occurs when the city posts a notice on a resident’s property that a bill is past due. 

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The modification of the city’s billing practices affected only those with delinquent utility accounts, which are accounts that are no longer active or are overdue. These are accounts that people previously struggled to maintain, according to the city website. 

The Water Division will start leaving notices on doors and mail letters notifying residents with unpaid bills that the city is shutting their water off.

Nicole Davies, City of Iowa City finance director, said while the payments are necessary, the city is not trying to harm its residents.

“We need everyone to pay their water bill, but we don’t want to make it any more of a burden than we have to,” Davies said. 

Due to revenue loss from the pandemic and loss of the carding fee, the city used American Rescue Plan funds for support. ARPA provides federal COVID-19 relief funds to state and local governments.  

Fruin said the Iowa City City Council will petition to use ARPA dollars to reimburse unpaid bills that the city accumulated over the last two years at its meeting Sept. 6. 

Eligibility for city bill collection relief programs

Additionally, Iowa City is looking for programs to help residents whose payments will resume soon.

The Utility Discount Program is a low-income Iowa City government program for those struggling to pay their bills with discounts of up to 75 percent. People are eligible with participation in one or more of the following programs: 

  • Supplemental Security Income 
  • Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Family Investment Program
  • Title XX Childcare Assistance 
  • Food Assistance 
  • Receiving Elderly Tax Credit on your real estate tax or State Rent disbursement.

Additionally, the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program is working to help those who are dealing with disconnection, reconnection, overdue utility, and water bills through its Crisis Utility and Water Assistance Program.

Chris Ackman, HACAP communications manager, said the program is designed for people financially struggling. 

“The Energy Assistance Program basically works as offering a credit towards individuals’ utility bills, so those who are income eligible, so you have to be at or below the poverty guidelines,” Ackman said.